In a city that has the fastest-growing food truck industry in the United States, it may be hard to compete with new trucks that pop-up around the corner.
However, David Martinez, co-owner of Churro Co. on 1620 E. Riverside Drive, said he believes there’s enough business in Austin for everyone.
“I feel that Austin has a very open mind about food,” Martinez said. “That is extremely peculiar for a city that has grown immensely in the past 15 years. When you take that combination, about being open minded about food, and a population that is multiplying pretty quickly, you create the perfect opportunity for non-conventional types of dining.”
Churro Co. is a dessert trailer founded in 2014 by Martinez and Leo Mendoza, childhood friends from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, who shared a vision of paying homage to traditional Mexican street food. A churro is a fried-dough snack.
According to the Austin Business Journal, the number of food trucks in the city has increased by more than 600 percent between 2010 to 2016, leading San Francisco and Salt Lake City. The city is estimated to have over 1,000 food trucks, according to AustinTexas.org.
The growth of the food truck scene is not hurting the traditional restaurant industry, either. The number of brick-and-mortar restaurants in Travis County increased by 18 percent, according to IBISWorld, a market research firm.
“The city had the right regulations and the food scene had the right level of curiosity, at just the right time,” Broyles said. “The recession caused investors to stop putting money into brick-and-mortar, but a truck is something you could start on a savings account.”
Martinez worked as a research analyst for Research Now, an established global online market research database, for 14 years before switching to teaching pre-K. Although he took a pay cut of 50 percent, he said teaching allows him to have more time to work on projects for Churro Co..
Yet he said his background in market research has helped in running the business, including pricing. A traditional churro at the trailer costs $3.50 and the churros “with a twist” costs $4.50.
“Our cost of operations has increased because the area that we’re in has become popular,” Martinez said. “Everyone is jacking up the prices, but we try to maintain as low as possible.”
Martinez said he and Mendoza maxed out a couple of credit cards and used their life savings to open the trailer in 2014. Nearly three years later, Churro Co. still owns the business, which allows the duo to keep “100 percent of the control” including advertisement.
The small food operation grows organically as possible, Martinez said. Most advertisement is done by maximizing its social media exposure, specifically Instagram.
Even before running a food truck, Martinez said he’d always preferred Instagram due to its ability to connect with people through pictures. With an average of one post per day, Churro Co. currently has over 15,000 followers.
In fact, this past Feb. Churro Co. was featured on the Cooking Channel’s “Unique Sweets,” which came across the Mexican classic desserts via Instagram. According to the Cooking Channel’s website, “Unique Sweets” is “an insider’s peek into innovative eateries across America creating the most unique and exciting desserts today.”
“Landing that spot was very special for us, because it wasn’t something we paid for,” Martinez said. “They found us online and they wanted to showcase us and I believe that is a lot more meaningful.”
Hoa Nguyen, a California resident, visited Churro Co. for the first time June 10 with a group of friends who had heard of the trailer by word of mouth.
“The last churro I had was from Costco,” said the University of California, Berkley student, while overlooking Lady Bird Lake. “This is the first dessert place I’ve visited while in Austin. I love the fact that I’m able to try something different while enjoying the view of a city I’ve never been in before.”
Broyles said she believes food trucks have affected the city’s dining experience by making more interesting food and in spaces more exciting than traditional restaurants.
“A food truck on the lawn of the Long Center is a memorable dining experience, but a regular old dining room is not,” she said.
Martinez said the atmosphere of a dining service is just as important as the food.
“When our regulars come over, we already know their life story,” he said. “We’ve had the chance to talk with them and I’d like to keep it that way. Whenever we get a chance, we want to make it feel like you’re at a bar and you’re talking to a bartender just because they’re there.”
For the past three years, the Churro Co. team of four employees has eaten and breathed churros.
The next steps lie in opening a couple of more trucks before moving on to a restaurant, Martinez said.
“We’re not trying to get big overnight,” he said. “We just want people to try us out, enjoy the product, come back, and then repeat.”
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